NCAA Football Preview - Appalachian State Mountaineers

NCAA Football Preview - Appalachian State Mountaineers

<p>ASU entered the season with high expectations, boasting a No. 12 ranking in The Sports Networks' preseason FCS poll, but it quickly fell out of favor by losing six of its first seven games.</p>

ASU entered the season with high expectations, boasting a No. 12 ranking in The Sports Networks' preseason FCS poll, but it quickly fell out of favor by losing six of its first seven games.

The Mountaineers were able to right the ship over the second half of the schedule with wins in three of their last five games, including back-to-back victories to close out the year against Wofford (33-21) and Western Carolina (48-27) to finish up 4-8 and 4-4 in the Southern Conference. It marked the first time since 2004 that the team failed to qualify for the postseason.

One of four new teams in the Sun Belt Conference, ASU will be a fully- integrated member of the FBS in 2014.

2014 ANALYSIS:

OFFENSE: In the FCS a season ago, ASU failed to wow offensively in putting up just 23.6 ppg and 409.8 ypg. Adjusting to a more difficult level of competition will certainly be a challenge, but it'll have chemistry on its side in returning eight starters on the offensive side of the ball, including all five offensive linemen.

Kameron Bryant emerged as a trusted option under center as a sophomore in 2013 with an outstanding completion percentage (.712), 2,713 passing yards and 17 touchdowns (three rushing) paired to just four interceptions. Bryant's continued maturation will go a long way in making the Mountaineers competitive this season.

ASU also has a versatile tailback, who figures to have a small learning curve in becoming one of the Sun Belt's best. As just a freshman, Marcus Cox was one of the FCS's elite a season ago, compiling 1,250 rushing yards, 559 receiving yards and 21 total touchdowns.

With Bryant and Cox as the centerpieces, Satterfield is eager to shift to a more fast-paced offense this season.

"We really didn't change tempo throughout (2013)," Satterfield said. "We made the change throughout the winter and into the offseason...We kind of got away from the (up-tempo style). We want to get back to that."

The team lost both its leading receivers, Andrew Peacock (78 receptions, 706 yards, two TDs) and Tony Washington (64 receptions, 939 yards, four TDs), in the offseason. In addition to Cox catching balls out of the backfield, Malachi Jones and Simms McElfresh will see increased targets as the new starters.

DEFENSE: ASU's defensive efforts were far from special last season, as the unit allowed 28.0 ppg and 400.5 ypg while forcing a modest 18 turnovers, but it too has plenty of continuity rolling over in seven returning starters, with key performers returning to all three levels of the defense.

Back along the defensive line are Deuce Robinson (7.0 TFL), Thomas Bronson (3.5 TFL) and Stephen Burns (4.0 TFL), but the trio combined for just three sacks. In fact, the whole team struggled getting to the quarterback with a mere eight sacks in 12 games.

John Law is a high-impact playmaker in the middle, having recorded 71 tackles, three interceptions and a forced fumble in 2013. Kennan Gilchrist (59 tackles) also returns to the linebacking corps.

Joel Ross (56 tackles, INT) and Doug Middleton (46 tackles, two INTs) bring valuable experience to the secondary.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Zach Matics will act as the new field goal kicker replacing Drew Stewart. Bentlee Critcher is back as the punter after a stellar freshman season, averaging 45.9 yards per punt with 18 kicks landing inside the 20-yard line.

Washington was the primary return specialist in 2013. In his absence, Bobo Beathard (seven kickoff returns, 155 yards) is listed at the top of the depth chart for fielding both kickoffs and punts.

OUTLOOK: Recent history has not been kind to teams entering their first season in the Sun Belt -- South Alabama was just 2-11 in 2012 and Georgia State went winless in 12 games a season ago -- but ASU seems destined to have slightly more success in its inaugural campaign, especially after its strong finish to 2013.

"The encouraging thing for me is that our guys did not fold the tent (last season)," Satterfield said. "They kept working, they kept with the process, and we ended on a strong note...You take all that, and you build on it."

The Mountaineers are thrown right into the fire on opening Saturday with a road matchup at Michigan, and don't expect a repeat performance of their infamous 2007 upset in the Big House. They won't have a contest anywhere close to as difficult from there out, as it'll play Southern Miss (1-11 in 2013), FCS foes Campbell and Liberty in addition to their Sun Belt slate of games.

Don't expect ASU to be a threat to win the league in its first year playing up, but considering its talented offense, four or five wins (with a few in conference play) would be a solid start for the program.

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